Elton John’s tour is dubbed Farewell Yellow Brick Road, but his show January 26 at Gila River Arena was anything but a career eulogy.
For nearly three hours, John threw a festive party, playing bandleader to a sold-out crowd who sang along with hits like “Bennie and the Jets,” “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Candle in the Wind.” Donned in a black suit with pink and gold trim—and the obligatory sparkly glasses—John shared stories about his career, paying homage to Bernie Taupin and peers like Aretha Franklin.
John arrived on stage at 8:15 p.m. and he immediately teased the fans with the first chord of “Bennie and the Jets,” which had guests on their feet. He followed “Bennie” with “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” injected with extra swagger.
The hit-laden set was accompanied by fun and dramatic video that captured the essence of the songs. Sometimes they were so interesting it was easy to forget there was a concert. “Philadelphia Freedom,” for example, was a video dance party. “Tiny Dancer” was a dramatic look at the song.
As for John, he was appreciative of the turnout, often bowing or pointing at the crowd after finishing a song. He was funny, too, telling stories about his career with songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, and his run-ins with fellow celebs.
“I’ve been with Bernie Taupin for 50 years,” he said. “I’m proud we survived an industry that often eats you up and spits you out. That didn’t happen to us.”
He described his and Taupin’s songwriting process; Taupin presents him with lyrics.
“I put my hands on the piano keys and hope for the best,” he said. “It’s worked so far!”
He explained the tour’s setlist was difficult, as he knows there are certain songs he has to play.
“There are so many songs I want to play,” he added. “If I played everything, we’d be here for a very, very long time. We’re already going to be here for a very long time.”
Perhaps the most heartfelt moment was when he paid tribute to the late Aretha Franklin. John said musicians covering his songs was the “huge honor.” He and Taupin were told early in their career that someone was going to cover “Border Song.”
“For all we knew, it could be The Chipmunks,” he said, sitting on his piano bench sideways. “It was Aretha Franklin.”
When they heard the news, he was stunned and flattered, as any young songwriter would be.
“It gave us so much confidence,” he added. “Her last public performance was part of the Elton John AIDS Foundation benefit. She was incredibly frail, but she raised the roof. It was sad because she was frail, but bittersweet. We’re never going to see the likes of her again.”
Back at you Mr. John.
“Bennie and the Jets”
“All the Girls Love Alice”
“I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues”
“Take Me to the Pilot”
“Someone Saved My Life Tonight”
“Candle in the Wind”
“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”
“Burn Down the Mission”
“Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”
“The Bitch is Back”
“I’m Still Standing”
“Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”
“Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”